Leeds citizens shame thieves who stole plaque to victim of police racism

Racists who stole a blue plaque commemorating the death of a British-Nigerian man in Leeds have been “taught a lesson” as citizens overwhelmingly came together to display hundreds of images of the plaque on billboards, video screens and stickers across the city.

Leeds was left shaken after the plaque dedicated to David Oluwale, who died in 1969 after being harassed by police, was stolen within hours of being unveiled on Leeds Bridge on Monday.

Leeds Civic Trust, which installed the memorial, said the irony of the crime was that the thieves had hugely amplified Oluwale’s name.

Mel Roberts, development and engagement manager at the trust, said: “Thank God they stole that plaque because it’s really taught them a lesson, and I think it’s teaching the city an important lesson as well.”

She said she had received an outpouring of support on social media and by email, with people asking for stickers and badges to show their support for the #rememberoluwale campaign.

An event to mark the installation of the plaque, attended by more than 200 people including the leader of Leeds city council, was held between 5pm and 7pm on Monday – but by 10pm it had been stolen.

Emily Zobel Marshall, co-chair of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, said the group had returned from dinner after installing the plaque to find it had been stolen in a “brutally cruel act”. She added: “It’s just been overwhelming the amount of support that the city has shown, and I’ve gone from being so disappointed in the city to feeling a restored sense of faith in it.”

Detectives are still investigating the theft, which they are treating as a hate crime, and it is thought to be connected to dozens of incidents of racist graffiti in the city over the last two weeks.

A new plaque is being made, funded by the council, and will be installed on the bridge, which was chosen because it was close to where 38-year-old Oluwale was last seen alive, being chased by Sgt Kenneth Kitching and Insp Geoffrey Ellerker. His body was found two weeks later, about a mile away, in the River Aire, which flows under the bridge.

In 1971, the two officers were convicted of assault by a jury which had been directed to acquit them of manslaughter.

The council agreed to display an image of the plaque on its digital screens in prominent locations around the city, and the advertising company JCDecaux also volunteered its billboards. Other people and organisations began to run with the idea too, including Leeds Playhouse, which displayed the image on a 2-metre-tall billboard at the front of the theatre, and Hyde Park Picture House, a historic cinema, which will show the plaque before its films.

Other efforts include a skateboard shop making skateboard stickers and a printing company producing full-scale plaque stickers

Zobel Marshall said: “It’s been a real rollercoaster of emotions. The theft shows that things have not changed as much as they need to have changed.”

She added: “But wherever the people who took the plaque look, now they will see plaques all over Leeds.”

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